/ The Daisy Foundation with Lesley Doig

A baby in hindsight: trying for a baby is hard

A bit more of a personal story this week; one that I hope might help people feel less alone. If you are currently trying for a baby and struggling, this is for you.

When me and my husband first got married, we decided to start trying for a baby. I still remember that feeling of the first disappointing period. It was on our honeymoon, we were on a flight and I got the horrible wet feeling we know all too well. I ran to the toilet and went through the process of cleaning up. I came out of the toilet in a haze and went back to my seat, holding in the tears, near to bursting. I got into my seat and broke down, lying across my husband’s lap and crying silent tears. We had previously agreed that we were not going to “actively try” but just not use protection; but in reality, we were still trying and my empty womb was a real kick in the teeth. I cried myself to sleep on that flight.

It was the same story for the next 10 months. 10 more periods. 10 more red signals. 10 more confirmations of  my failure as a woman. I can’t even begin to explain the emptiness I felt. Whilst I was on my period, I would get so down and moody. And then when I knew I was fertile, I would be elated, full of hope. The up and down of every month was hard.

After a few months, we decided to “actively” try. So, I started to take my temperature but honestly, it didn’t work for me and I had no idea when I was fertile. We were having sex every other day around my supposedly fertile time to increase the likelihood of it happening. Sex became a chore, a process. When I knew I was fertile, there was no more enjoyment for me. After we had sex I then spent time on my back trying to better position myself in the hopes that maybe this time would be different. Maybe this time it would work.

I felt broken, alone and terrified.

There is an unspoken rule in our society that we don’t tell people when we are trying for a baby. So, the grief of failed attempts is our burden to carry alone. The months of waiting and failed attempts are hidden in the partnership – until the 12-week scan, when you make this joyful announcement that you successfully created life. At this point we can break the silence and start talking about how long it took. And even then, there is no support, just comments like, “Well at least it happened”, or “Well it’s done now”, or worse still “At least you can, some people can’t even get pregnant”. Helpful.

The strain that it can have on your relationship is real too. It can be hard to support another person when you are grieving yourself. There is very little support for the woman, and even less for the man. The doubt of why it isn’t happening for you can be on their mind as well. You start to think that maybe your body is broken, that there is something wrong with you.

At 15, I was told I had a hormone deficiency that meant I may not be able to have children naturally. (To be honest, I can’t even remember what they said I had or why it could affect me in that way. The test was very traumatic for me and I honestly can only remember the pain of the procedure.) I think the doubt that this created caused me a lot of stress and probably didn’t help me relax to conceive. Or maybe it was the deficiency that caused my struggle in that first year. Or maybe I would have always struggled. Whatever the reason; the grief I felt in that year was nothing I was prepared for.

The first month I used an ovulation stick was the 11th month of trying. I knew that if it didn’t work this time, I would be “allowed” to go speak to a doctor about other options. Whether it was due to the accuracy of the stick or knowing I would no longer have to go through the pain alone and I would get help, that was the month I finally fell pregnant.

Trying for a baby can be a very emotionally raw experience. You are trying to create life and even if you are just going to “see how things go”, knowing that it is a possibility can weigh heavily on your mind. And then you get your period. A great big red uncomfortable sign – not this time. Part of the problem with trying for a baby is that a lot of the symptoms of pregnancy can be the same as your period coming. Sore breasts, stomach cramps, tiredness and hunger. So, after you try, you can be filled with hope with these feelings to only be brutally let down. It can feel like it’s your own fault, like somehow you are the reason that this is happening. It’s your failure. Even though that is not true, thoughts of that one heavy box you lifted, that bath you had that may have been slightly too hot and many other thoughts may appear in your head. The chances of any of these being the true reason we didn’t hit the jackpot this month are almost definitely not true, but we think them none the less. Maybe we have a need to find a reason, because if there is a reason, then we can fix it for next month. Who knows?

On average, it can take around 1 – 2 years to get pregnant. 12-24 months. Which is an incredibly long time when you are trying. Considering that 1 in 7 couples will struggle with infertility, and of these, 25% will not be explained[1], it feels like there is a lack of support for people going through this. You are told to see your GP if you have been actively trying for over a year. A year. And even when you do, there is still a lack of help in terms of mental and emotional health issues which arise when trying. Instead, they focus on the medical side; which is their job. I’m not blaming them, our society is one where mental health has been hidden and not seen as a real issue. It is only in our recent history that mental health is coming to the forefront of our conversations, but there is still a long way to go.

I knew that I was struggling with my mental health, but not once did I seek help. I think it was just the societal pressure, that it was just not done. Keep calm, and carry on. You don’t tell people you are trying and you don’t tell them until the 12-week scan when the baby is already there. And at that point, what has festered inside you is still not discussed; how long it took, the grief of the failed attempts and the constant worry and anxiety. Maybe it is mentioned, but is brushed aside like somehow being pregnant eradicates any pain from before. Looking back, I really should have told people we were trying. I was not coping and was not in a good place mentally. Maybe I should have seen a grief counsellor, but I felt like I didn’t have right to seek help until I had clocked up my year of trying alone.

If you are struggling with this, or any other form of mental health issues, please seek help. Talk to your GP, seek out a counsellor, or simply talk to family and friends. You have not failed. You do not have to hide. You are not alone.

[1] https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/trying-for-a-baby/how-long-it-takes-to-get-pregnant